Fifteen airlines have signed up to a new initiative that will see the government partially underwrite agriculture and fisheries airfreight routes previously cut off by the coronavirus crisis.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also confirmed that 560 businesses have registered their interested to utilise the new $110 million “International Freight Assistance Mechanism” (IFAM), which will initially focus on key markets of China, Japan, Hong Kong and the UAE.
“Around 90 per cent of our air freight usually goes out in the bellies of passenger aircraft. With very few international passenger flights leaving Australia at present, our exporters are facing major hurdles,” Minister Birmingham said.
The first airlines and freight companies to sign up are Qantas and Virgin Australia as well as Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Federal Express, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar, CT Freight, Schenker Australia, Kuehne & Nagel, Air Menzies International, Toll and DHL Global Forwarding.
The IFAM will initially focus on restoring critical global supply chains for agriculture and fisheries producers, and will work by partially offsetting the cost of airfreight, reducing airfreight and freight forwarding costs.
Qatar Cargo, one of the first airlines to sign up, has explained that it will offer block space capacity and charters for Australian exports like seafood, meat, dairy and horticulture such as premium fruits, packaged salads and vegetables on flights from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth with more departure points to be added based on demand and freight optimisation.
It will also allow medicines, medical supplies and equipment to be imported on the return leg.
Of the 560 businesses to enquire about the initiative,120 are seafood exporters.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said, “We’ve already seen lobster from Western Australia, lamb from Victoria and salmon from Tasmania shipped to international ports and markets.
“The quicker we can get our products off the farm and onto airplanes, the more Australian jobs we can save and the quicker our agricultural exporters can bounce back.”
Qatar said in a statement, “Through our passenger flights and freighters from Australia, we are offering registered exporters over 750 tonnes of cargo capacity each week for their high-value fresh produce.
“In times of crisis, we need to be able to adapt quickly and we are proud to be part of this initiative that supports global trade.”